Boehner's Unforced Blunder

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No two ways about it: the potential next speaker of the House, John Boehner, handed the Democrats a gift when he intimated that he would be open to voting for a bill that preserved the Bush tax cuts only for those making $250,000 or less. Boehner quickly tried to corral the horse and put it back in the barn, saying that he really didn't see a distinction between tax cuts ... that small business would be penalized by the refusal to extend the tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 and that he would not support legislation that would raise taxes on anyone.

"If the only option I have is to vote for those at $250,000 and below, of course I'm going to do that." Boehner said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "But I'm going to do everything I can to fight to make sure that we extend the current tax rates for all Americans."

It's still hard to see Democrats mustering the numbers to pass a bill doing this, but Boehner's comments might help prevent more Democrats from endorsing calls to extend the tax cuts for all Americans.

It may precipitate a leadership fight amongst Republicans if they retake control of the House, because a large number of new freshman GOPers are not going to want to compromise one iota with President Obama, specifically about tax cuts.

It's already precipitated a row (of sorts) within the caucus.

Boehner's comments remake the terms of a "broad compromise." Where progressive Democrats complained that "compromising" on tax cuts meant capitulating to Republican demands to extend them all, at least for a year, the "compromise" position on the table is now the one Obama proposed during his campaign. Also, it will reinforce doubts about Boehner's fundamental capacity to be a leader of a majority.

This solution also tracks with public opinion. Most Americans get the complexity of this issue: the Bush-era tax cuts were designed to stimulate the economy, and they had an expiration date because they would balloon the deficit too much if they were allowed to continue in perpetuity. Americans may understand, and even have some sympathy for, the argument that depriving people earning $250,000 or more of the marginal income tax rate they've used for the past few years might make it less attractive for small businesses to hire, but they don't see the A to B connection that Republicans have been using to energize their base.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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